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Weissman Conservators Team Up with University Microbiologists to Preserve One-of-a-Kind Daguerreotypes

Scientists and conservators confirm mold on earliest photos.


October 16, 2012—Library preservation staff members Elena Bulat, photograph conservator at the Weissman Preservation Center (WPC), and Brenda Bernier, the Paul M. and Harriet L Weissman Senior Photograph Conservator, collaborated with Harvard microbiologists Nick Konkol, former post-doctoral fellow at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Dr. Ralph Mitchell, the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Biology (SEAS) in a recent publication. Their article “Characterization of Filamentous Accretions on Daguerreotype Surfaces" appeared in the most recent issue of the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation.


The article’s groundbreaking research proved that some enigmatic white spots on daguerreotypes—the first photographic images dating back to 1839—are mold that has managed to live on particles, either microscopic bits of fabric, dust or other debris, trapped between the images and their glass coverings.


“The microbiologists clearly identified fungal DNA inside the spots. Our next step is to determine how to remove the mold without damaging the images. Some molds may actually be able to solubilize metal, so it is of utmost importance that we remove it before it destroys these one-of-a-kind artifacts,” Bernier said.


The Journal of the American Institute for Conservation is a prominent online and print source for information on efforts in conservation. The publication includes scholarly articles about scientific research, current issues, and technical procedures in the conservation field.


The Library's Weissman Preservation Center specializes in the care and treatment of the rarest of Harvard’s library materials.


“This is the first time WPC conservators have written a peer-reviewed article with Harvard faculty. It was a great synergy of complementary skills and interests. This is an area where we would like to see more collaboration,” Bernier said.